It wouldn’t be a post about NBA draft buzz without leading things off with a LeBron James update. Nothing happens without him involved in some way, so let’s get to that first:
Despite speculation to the contrary, a person with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday that James has, in fact, been in frequent communication with Cavs officials – with the most recent conversation occurring last week. James and his agent, Leon Rose, have maintained dialogue with the Cavs, but that doesn’t mean he wants to have a say in Cleveland’s coaching hire. • “LeBron wants to win,” the person familiar with the conversations said. “He doesn’t want to hire the coach.”
Along those lines, former Nets and Hornets coach Byron Scott continues to be the favorite to land the job of coaching – or maybe not coaching – LeBron. But since Scott’s situation is tied to Phil Jackson’s decision on whether to return to the Lakers next season, the Cavs are continuing to actively discuss their coaching vacancy with as many as three other candidates, sources say.
If Jackson decides to retire, Scott is viewed as the logical replacement – a former Laker whose defensive mentality and affinity for an up-tempo style would be attractive to Kobe Bryant. Jackson, who indicated he’d have a decision within about a week of winning his 11th championship last Thursday, hasn’t tipped his hand. A person with strong ties to Jackson and the Lakers told CBSSports.com Tuesday that his “gut feeling” is that Jackson would be back. But the person prefaced his opinion by stressing that it was only an educated guess based on conversations with Jackson before the Lakers’ championship run ended. Nobody can accurately handicap Jackson’s stance until he has the results of his year-end physical and takes the full week to mull his future. Jackson’s daughter, however, offered this nugget in a Sports Illustrated piece on the Lakers’ championship: “I think this is it. I think he’s done now.”
James, meanwhile, has yet to tip his own hand in conversations with the Cavs’ brass as to where he stands on his impending free agency binge. So the Cavs continue to entertain multiple trade scenarios, mostly geared toward trying to maneuver into Thursday night’s draft, in which they currently have no picks. According to sources who have been in contract with Cleveland decision-makers, the Cavs have been exploring buying their way into the first round but have been turned off by the going rate for a late first-round pick – $3 million plus an asset. As of now, that price is too steep for Cleveland’s liking, and one of the sources expected the price only to rise between now and Thursday night.
Cleveland also received inquiries from several teams about point guard Mo Williams. One of those teams was Portland, which also rejected an offer of a high first-round pick – believed to be Minnesota’s fourth selection – for swingman Nicolas Batum. According to sources, the Cavs are not aggressively seeking to trade Williams but are listening to offers. • Here’s the rest of the pre-draft buzz with less than 48 hours to go:
• There’s so much smoke blowing around New Jersey’s No. 3 pick that you’d think Snoop Dogg were making the selection. Speculation focused Tuesday on indications that the Nets were leaning toward Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson over Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins – which could’ve been simply a smokescreen or a prelude to a trade. Reports later in the day refuted the Johnson speculation, saying the Nyets remained focused on Favors.
• Minnesota has been one of the more active teams on the trade front, and GM David Kahn laid the groundwork Tuesday for a swap with Memphis that would send Minnesota’s 16th pick to the Grizzlies for their 25th and 28th. All such deals are predicated on how the picks shake out, but one person involved in the talks cautioned Thursday that the Grizzlies had “nothing anywhere near completion with any team.” Okey dokey. By trading down from No. 16, the T-Wolves would have four of the top 28 picks. That’s either ample ammunition for a trade – Kahn’s efforts to move Al Jefferson have been futile – or ample opportunities to alienate many more draft picks.
• After John Wall goes with the No. 1 pick to the Wizards, Evan Turner seems to be a lock for the Sixers at No. 2. Which presents an intriguing scenario, given that Turner is represented by David Falk, who also happens to represent Elton Brand. Word among NBA executives Tuesday was that the Sixers were stepping up their efforts to trade Brand, whose value – if not his salary – has been decimated by two lost seasons in Philly.
• Don’t think Warriors GM Larry Riley’s comments about building the team around Stephen Curry went unnoticed in Monta Ellis’ corner of the world. “You don’t build your team around a two-guard. You build around a point guard,” said Riley, who apparently experienced a blackout from 1985-98, when a two-guard named Michael Jordan won six NBA titles. There’s a lot going on in Golden State, not the least of which will be a renewed push from Ellis’ camp to get him out of there once the team’s sale to Larry Ellison finally is completed. Though Ellison’s purchase isn’t expected to move forward until mid-August, the shedding of Corey Maggette’s $30.8 million over the next three years won’t hurt from a bookkeeping standpoint. Nor does it hinder any prospective savior/president of basketball operations (Jerry West?) who might swoop in to spare the new owner first-hand exposure to the Don Nelson/Riley regime.
• Speaking of front-office maneuverings, Denver GM Mark Warkentien has been quietly pushing for a decision one way or another from ownership on his future after his contract expires Aug. 31. With no contract offer forthcoming, Warkentien asked for permission to speak with Phoenix about its GM opening, with the understanding that he’d also want to speak with Portland and the Clippers after the draft. According to sources, Stan Kroenke’s deputies – son Josh Kroenke and CEO Paul Andrews – are expected to decide on whether to grant the Phoenix permission by the end of the week. Suns owner Robert Sarver, who successfully ran Steve Kerr and David Griffin out of town, is said to be “very interested” in speaking with Warkentien, according to a source.